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James McDonald is growing into the Pirates’ ace at age 27

May 30, 2012, 3:48 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies v Pittsburgh Pirates - Game One Getty Images

James McDonald pitched well for the Pirates in the one-and-a-half seasons after they acquired him from the Dodgers for Octavio Dotel in mid-2010, but so far this season he’s taken a major step forward at age 27 to emerge as a potential top-of-the-rotation starter.

McDonald threw 244 innings with a 4.15 ERA in 2010 and 2011, but after shutting out the Reds for eight innings Monday he now has a 2.20 ERA through 10 starts this year. And just as importantly his secondary numbers show a significant improvement that goes beyond ERA.

McDonald averaged 7.1 strikeouts and 4.0 walks per nine innings in 2010/2011, but this year he has 8.7 strikeouts and 2.6 walks per nine innings. He’s always had good raw stuff, but McDonald is throwing his straight fastball less and relying on his sinker/slider combination a lot more, resulting in 22 percent more missed bats and 10 percent more ground balls along with 35 percent fewer walks and a much better job keeping the ball in the ballpark.

Obviously 10 starts are just 10 starts, but McDonald’s performance looks much more like legitimate improvement than some sort of early season fluke and that would be a huge development in the Pirates’ never-ending quest for a winning record.

  1. WhenMattStairsIsKing - May 30, 2012 at 4:17 PM

    The Pirates could use a sure-fire ace as much as anyone. Talk about finding a possible diamond in the rough for such a minute trade of an old relief pitcher.

  2. florida76 - May 30, 2012 at 5:00 PM

    Pirates have done a better job finding pitchers than hitters, but the game is tilting more toward pitching anyway since steroid testing. With a little more hitting, the Bucs can finish with a winning record, which would get the franchise back on track. The unexpected signing of All-Star McCutcheon was a needed boost, along with the trade for Burnett.

    Let’s also not forget the Cards and Brewers have faltered, as expected, so who knows what will happen in the Central. Houston is better than expected, and the Cubs are still stuck in the 1908 wilderness. Had the second wildcard been in existence the last full 16 NL seasons, 12 teams with win totals in the 80s would have made the playoffs. Baseball has seen crazier events.

    • pghsoxfan - May 31, 2012 at 8:55 AM

      Yeah, the Cards are really faltering. They have scored the most runs in the NL and the 3rd most in all of MLB. This is also being done with injuries to Berkman etc.

  3. biasedhomer - May 30, 2012 at 6:29 PM

    Pirate rotation in 2 years: McDonald, Cole, and Tallion. Decades of sucking may be soon over.

    • florida76 - May 30, 2012 at 10:33 PM

      Actually, the Bucs have a shot at ending the streak before two decades of losing seasons. And the 1997 club didn’t suck, they were in serious contention for the division crown until the last week of the season. I do agree with the hope of a future Pirate rotation, and Brad Lincoln has improved as well.

      Yet another strong AJ Burnett performance tonight as the Reds were discolored, Bucs only three out of first.

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